Idaho House Bill 415, which passed quickly through the Statehouse and now sits in the hands of the Senate State Affairs Committee, aims to allow public school employees to carry a firearm on campus as long as they attend an eight-hour class to receive their enhanced license for concealed carry and notify the campus principal and school resource officer (SRO).
“Right now, there are so many holes in the legislation it’s unbelievable,” said Sen. Ron Taylor, D-Hailey, at a Saturday, Feb. 3, town hall meeting in Hailey.
He was joined by fellow District 26 elected officials Rep. Ned Burns, D-Bellevue, and Rep. Jack Nelsen, R-Jerome, both of whom were among the 16 votes against the bill.
Asked by an audience member how the bill made it through the House with 53 votes in favor, “It passed because it’s an NRA-sponsored gun bill in an election year in Idaho,” said Burns.
Nelsen, who noted he grew up in a family where guns were a normal part of life, said he “takes major issue with the ‘Get out of jail free card.’”
According to the language of the bill: “No school employee shall be held civilly or criminally liable for deciding to engage or not to engage in an armed confrontation during a lethal threat to safety inside of a school or on school property.”
“There is no other realm where that kind of immunity exists,” said Morgan Ballis, president of the Idaho Association of School Resource Officers (IDASRO). “As law enforcement, if we act negligently or beyond our scope of training, we can be and should be held criminally liable.”
During a Jan. 24 public hearing in Boise, Rep. Ted Hill, R-Eagle, the bill’s sponsor, argued, “These select school employees will provide an armed force to protect children in the first minutes of an attack. We don’t want to have a stack of 20 kids dead in a classroom because we didn’t do anything.”
Helping to improve the ability of K-12 schools to respond to emergencies—with a focus on active shooters—is Ballis’ life’s work. The former Marine has a master’s degree in K-12 emergency management and is currently working on his doctorate degree.
Ballis also serves as an SRO for the Blaine County School District.
He argues that investment in prevention and better training for law enforcement are far more effective approaches to keeping students safe.
Based on FBI data, 95% of K-12 active shooters are current or former students of the targeted school, Ballis said.
“This means we have the potential to prevent 95% of these attacks by proactively identifying students on the pathway to violence and providing early interventions,” he wrote in the IDASRO’s official position statement on the bill.
“HB 415 prioritizes responding to an event once students have already been murdered over proactively establishing protocols to prevent an attack from taking place. This bill misses the mark by 95%.”
Numerous groups of educators came out against the bill, including the Idaho Educators Association, the Idaho School Administrators Association and the Idaho School Boards Association.
A primary argument from educators and administrators, including Blaine County School District Superintendent Jim Foudy, is that decisions should remain in local control.
“Idaho has a long-standing tradition of supporting local control,” Foudy wrote in a Monday, Feb. 5, email about his position. “This is due to the fact that there are vast differences between and among rural districts and urban districts. Currently, there are rural districts that have more than a 45-minute response from law enforcement and emergency medical support.
“In those districts they have carefully developed policy and identified one or more individuals who carry a weapon. HB 415 significantly lowers standards and expectations, as well as the training and certification required.”
Ballis said one Idaho school district that allows staff to concealed carry also requires 40 hours of specialized training with local law enforcement. HB 415 would remove that standard.
“It has nothing to do with the Second Amendment,” Ballis said. “It has to do with bad legislation.”
Burns, Taylor and Nelsen said they hope the bill gets killed in the Senate State Affairs Committee in the face of massive opposition.
No law enforcement agencies were invited to the table to talk about the bill and address concerns or offer ideas, Ballis said.
“When we read the actual language we were appalled,” he said.
“We have a duty and obligation to empower all stakeholders in the building,” Ballis said. “And that is happening through staff trainings and age-appropriate classroom discussions with students.”
There are numerous other points of concern in the bill for Ballis, such as the inclusion of volunteers and contractors as school staff and how the bill defines school property, which includes any property the school is using.
In addition, there are no set standards for the enhanced concealed-carry class, he said. While applicants are required to fire 98 rounds, there is no accuracy requirement.
Ballis is also concerned about fraudulent licenses.
“Principals aren’t trained to spot a fake,” he said.
The bill misses everything that should be prioritized to effectively keep students safe, Ballis said.
“Equip schools with the resources to identify and support at-risk students. Empower stakeholders to be prepared by having multiple response options. Invest in School Resource Officers who have dedicated themselves to protecting our educational facilities,” he wrote in the position statement.
Instead, HB 415 “allows the event to happen and hopes a staff member on campus is willing or able to stop it. It’s such a backward approach to school safety,” he said. ￼